Savage Empire (Super Famicom)

I’ve been gradually working through Nintendo Ultima games over the last year or so with this being the penultimate going in series order. Savage Empire was however published on the Super Famicom in 1995 using the Ultima 7 engine making it the last Ultima game to be published on a Nintendo at least so far. The port was done within Origin by the same team that converted Ultima 7 but never got released as it was around this time that FCI went out of business in the USA. A translated version was released in Japan but that means Japanese text throughout so I’m not going to do any more in this post than have a quick run around some of the world. A fan re-translation was started recently which I’m eagerly awaiting but no doubt it will take quite some time to complete.

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Whatever the game is like, the packaging alone makes this a great Ultima collectible with an unbordered version of the original box cover and full colour art throughout the manual as opposed to the monochrome of the PC version. 20130918_165530

The title screen looks largely familiar with extra animated dinosaurs but no scrolling. Savage Empire never had a full introduction like most of the Ultimas, just a story so far option on the menu. I’m assuming that’s what I found with all the scrolling text on the right.


Selecting the option beneath that takes me into the game. Just like Ultima 6 the graphics are fullscreen and easily on par if not better than the PC. Any other indoor areas close enough to be seen also appear here. It’s a little strange being able to see into a building without entering it but not a game breaker. The walking speed appears to be increased from Ultima 6 as my Avatar runs around with some pace which should make this a little quicker to play.

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I commented about the lack of button usage in Ultima 6’s interface when I was playing it and Savage Empire has had quite the overhaul is this regard. The two main buttons use whatever is in your left and right hand (as with Ultima 5 on the NES). The top button goes to the inventory screen and the left interacts with whatever you are looking at. The inventory screen appears to be massively simplified without all the various body slots of U6. It gives the distinct impression that this version is going to be dumbed down to a degree.


As for the other buttons, the right shoulder brought up this map but only once and only when I was outdoors. I’m sure it does something as I could move the hand around but I could only guess as to what.


Start brought up this screen which is clearly for casting magic. Select brought up a menu allowing me to save the game among other things. And left shoulder brought up some text I couldn’t read.


With the interface as clear as it was going to get, I venture out into Eoden to see what is out there only to be set upon by hordes of scorpions the moment I leave the village. The combat in this game appears to leave something to be desired. I have two hearts in the top left of my screen presumably indicating health but everything (and I do mean everything) kills me in a single hit resulting in death after death at first. I do at least get the option on-screen to load my save so there is no significant waiting to restart.

One hit death should make combat impossible but every time you score a hit your opponent is pushed back slightly. The result here is that as long as you are only facing one enemy combat appears to consist of mashing the buttons Track and Field style so that they can’t get close enough to kill you in that one blow. Hopefully there is more to it than this and it’s being lost in the lack of translation but this technique definitely works.

Victory in combat is rewarded by green gems being left behind which I pick up automatically by walking over them and they go on the counter at the top right. I have no idea what they are used for of course.


Running away from combat appears to always work so I take that option and head out a little further. I find all the locations I would expect like drum hill on the left and the stone city of the Nahuatla although I couldn’t find any glowing kings to speak of while I was there.

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I decide to look for some of the caves before I quit. On the way I’m chased by more of the wildlife…

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… but I do make it quickly enough to one of the caves, complete with a handful of cavemen. The view in here is extremely restricted with the Avatar only have the smallest of visible areas surrounding him. I hope there are some options for improving this within the game but it is still possible to explore. I notice while I’m in here that I automatically pick up every item I run across which is not something I would expect in an RPG.


I do find another cave, this time full of spiders which inevitably kill me off. There is a glitch during death at least revealing the cave in full.

I just wanted to get a feel for the game so that’s as far as I went. On first impressions I’d have to score this highly on graphics and music with reservations about the gameplay. It appears to have as much of a helping of Runes Of Virtue as Savage Empire to it from what I’ve seen. This still looks like fun anyway and it is undoubtedly going to offer quite a different experience to the original. I look forward to trying this out when I can understand it but in the meanwhile I will have to content myself with Ultima 7 on the SNES instead which will follow at some point.

Through the Portalarium

It already seems a long time ago but just over a week back, I got the unlikely chance for a tour of Portalarium and questions with Richard Garriott. The offices are on the 7th floor of an unassuming office block in downtown Austin.


They had just put the Halloween decorations up when we arrived. Letting LOAF lead the way, we were ushered into a small conference room barely big enough to get us all in. It was immediately apparent we were in the right place though as there was an entire wall of Ultimate RPG concept art on the near wall. I’m unfortunately not allowed to talk about this but I can mention some of the other adornments such as the original Ultima 9 tapestry artwork and a trio of cover art pictures for Chuckles’ 3 games including Caverns Of Callisto:-

Caverns Of Callisto - Origin Artwork

A brief wait later and we are getting the tour from Richard Garriott himself. The hub of the tour is a central corridor in which Garriott has placed some of the significant items from his gaming history. The plan is to bring more of this collection out of storage as Portalarium and the offices grow but even now it’s still the sort of display that any Ultima fan would have to remortgage their house for:-

Portalarium Akalabeth Display

This is the first section with the bottom left being some of Garriott’s pre Akalabeth games on paper tape + his written out code which never got punched in. The earliest Computerland Akalabeth case contains a version on cassette as Akalabeth actually predates the Apple II disk drive. He doesn’t think he sold any of these but wasn’t entirely certain so there may be one out there somewhere.

Going further down the corridor there is the original artwork for just about every Ultima game as well as some Destination Games displays but I don’t have photo’s to share unfortunately.

Wing Commander Artwork

For the Wing Commander fans, in the next room off to the side there is some more artwork including the original Wing Commander logo as well as a very familiar looking Wing Commander Prophecy movie style poster. Also in this room is Garriott’s pre Akalabeth D&D games map which was fairly massive and had some very familiar town names. He explained that it formed the basis for Ultima 1 although interestingly it was more or less all one large land mass. This fits in with an ancient RG interview I read elsewhere that Ultima 1 & 3 were in fact based on the same game map with the 4 continents of Ultima 1 being chopped up/rotated around versions of the same world as Ultima 3. This looked to fit with what I saw but I wish I grabbed a photo. Maybe next time…

We strolled through some of the developer’s offices after this. One of them was working on removing the Garage Sale text from the Ultimate Collector artwork so it looks like it’s going to have a name change. The name Ultimate Collector was apparently “borrowed” when a TV show of the same name contacted Garriott and he liked the name so much he thought he would use a variant on it.

Richard Garriott's Apple II

The Portalarium offices are quite a modest affair at the moment and we were soon back in the main corridor where at the far end there is the original Apple II used to write Akalabeth and the early Ultimas, permanently set up running Akalabeth these days. There is also a small but growing new collection of toys which has been inspired by all the cool items the team has come across making Ultimate Collector. Another recently acquired item is a teletype machine exactly the same as the one used to punch in the pre-Akalabeth D&D games.

With the tour concluded it was back to the conference room and a Q&A session. I can’t speak for everyone else there but this isn’t the sort of thing I’m used to and it’s hard not to get more than a little starstruck. It’s not like RG isn’t an easy-going sort of guy but I’ve thought of a lot of questions I should have asked afterwards. In no particular order, this is what I remember from a week later much of which I’ve already covered in a previous post.

One of the questions that came up was whether he would be able to help track down a copy of Wing Commander 2 on the SNES. This has been a holy grail for Wing Commander fans for a long time. The game was sent out to reviewers and full write-ups appeared in magazines back at the time but it never went on general sale. It even had some enhancements to the original version such as colour communications screens. The good news here is that RG was extremely positive that he may have a copy. He said that he made sure to get a copy of every Origin game and 10 copies if it was Ultima and thinks that with WC2 getting that far he will almost definitely have it in storage. The downside is that he wouldn’t just let us rummage around for it so we will have to wait some time.

I took the chance to ask if that could also mean he had a copy of The Lost Vale. He didn’t think it had ever got finished but I’d take the word of Sheri Graner Ray here and assume that he just didn’t follow it too closely at the time. Going on what he said previously, there must be at least be a slight chance that he may just have a copy but we’ll have to wait for that alongside WC2 SNES.

There was some talk about Ultimate RPG although it’s clearly in an early stage. He discussed how Portalarium’s Poker and Ultimate Collector games are necessary building blocks towards the technology needed to make Ultimate RPG within a small company like Portalarium. He confirmed that he would be appearing in Ultimate RPG and it would always be him playing his own character just like in Ultima Online.

Inevitably there was some talk of space travel (which he thinks will be as affordable as a first class airplane ticket within 20 years). Although he is now an employee of NASA, it turns out they were less than helpful with his journey to the space station despite the fact that he was doing experiments on their behalf. I gather that NASA didn’t want to be seen as spending USA tax payer’s money on “some rich yahoo’s” jaunt into space.

For instance, Garriott had to sign a fairly standard disclaimer before travelling to the Space Station. NASA never got around to countersigning this and 3 days before the flight tried to change the terms so that RG wasn’t allowed to take photo’s through the windows owned by NASA, take photos of the NASA owned portions of the station or actually go on the NASA side of the station in the first place (more or less negating the first two). The rest of the astronauts thought this was as ridiculous as he did and advised him not to sign it since they could hardly stop him flying at this point. After being further pushed to sign it however, he had the bright idea of getting NASA to agree to add a final clause that all terms were under the guidance of the mission commander on the space station (this was actually already the case anyway and this would just reaffirm it). The moment he arrived the commander welcomed him on board, told him he could go wherever he wanted, take any photos he wanted and not to feel the need to ask again.

To get back to Earth and Ultima games, the topic of Mount Drash came up somehow. The story is that Keith Zabalaoui (a friend of Garriotts who was credited on Akalabeth) had already written the game but Sierra weren’t going to publish it unless they could use the Ultima branding to increase sales. The game was never intended to be an Ultima but Garriott gave this his blessing to help his friend out, hence Ultima – Escape From Mount Drash. This makes it a legitimate part of the Ultima series as far as I’m concerned and a whole lot more collectible (if that is possible). I might even be prepared to fork out the money myself now if the chance ever arose although I’m not so sure I wouldn’t rather buy another bookcase full of less extreme vintage software for the same price.

I asked about Ultima 4.5 which is something I’ve been curious about ever since I heard of it. According to an RG interview I read a long time back Ultima 4.5 and Ultima 5 were being developed side by side for a while and I wanted to learn more. Garriott didn’t think this was the case however and said that Savage Empire was the first time they had tried to reuse an engine.

He went into some detail about the thought process behind each of the Ultima spinoffs. The original idea was that reusing the same engine would mean that the game could be made for less than the original which is certainly what I would have expected. However with Savage Empire, it apparently was so much work to strip out the original assets that it ended up costing just as much as Ultima 6 to make. They thought could learn from this with Martian Dreams but that also cost just as much and both games sold less than the mainline Ultimas casting questions on the whole notion of engine reuse.

With the U6 spinoffs not entirely going to plan, a different approach was taken with Serpent Isle whereby the original game assets would still be used for the most part which was supposed to keep costs down but this plan failed once more. It occurs to me now that I should have asked about Crusader at this point, which I’m assuming was Plan C. If so this probably worked out better by using the engine for a completely different genre of game and thereby not just appealing to a subset of those that bought Ultima 8.

LOAF asked about the Ultima anime which was supposedly made in Japan in the 80’s. Garriott was adamant that there was never any such thing which would certainly explain why it hasn’t surfaced by now. I would assume that the screenshots that exist were simply created for a Famicom TV commercial which sounds like a far more likely explanation.

The only other things I can recall were a mention of Ultima Forever as he had just been out for dinner with Paul Barnett the day before and agreed to appear in the game travelling around in the skies. He thinks their heart is in the right place for U4E but he hasn’t seen the game so couldn’t give an opinion on it.

We also got an impromptu illustrated guide to the iconic shapes of the Wing Commander 1 fighters (and other things), which Garriott considers to be far more memorable than those in later games. I also recall asking (more to fill an awkward silence than anything) whether Time Bandits really was the inspiration for the cloth maps which of course it was but we all knew that anyway.

Richard Garriott Space Suit Badge

Our hour was up almost as soon as it had begun. We got some final photo opportunities and there was one little bonus when we were gifted Richard Garriott space suit badges. I came out slightly shell shocked and I still can’t quite believe I got to do this in the first place. Many thanks to Lord British for taking the time to show us around and also to Loaf and Chris Reid for all but one of the photo’s on this post.

Return to the Savage Empire

One of my excursions during my time in Austin was a trip to the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. The name should be familiar to anyone who has read the Savage Empire manual and the Origin offices at that time were a couple of minutes away on Wild Basin road no less. The area is a 227 acre nature reserve that was founded in the 1970’s on the outskirts of Austin and is now part of St. Edwards University. I could hardly let the chance pass without mounting my own expedition to see if was as exciting as its virtual counterpart and I made it out alive to tell the tale:-


The entrance has a giant map looking at best vaguely similarly shaped to the Eoden Valley. All the cloth maps must have been taken by all the Ultima fans that had ventured here before me so I foolishly pushed on without:-

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The only initial danger appeared to be mud and my complete lack of appropriate clothing/footwear but things soon dried out as I reached an escarpment with a sweeping view of the valley.

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With spirits high, I ventured deeper into the wilderness only to lose all bearings under the thick canopy. I wandered without direction and had no choice but to press on through treacherous river crossings…


…facing the perils of the native wildlife…


… and after an all too close encounter with an giant lumbering beast from ages past (aka an overweight jogger) found much needed sanctuary in an isolated tropical lagoon. Glad of the respite, I set up camp for a while and recuperated before venturing on.


After many more minutes of arduous trekking through the wild landscape, I climbed to a vantage point to find my bearings. Frome here I could make out the primitive huts of the local tribespeople living on the far hill. I’d heard the bloodcurdling tales of these tribes and with supplies running low decided it was time I got back to civilisation. From the high ground, I signalled to anyone who was available and thankfully my message was received by a local native of the mostly civilised UT tribe called Mike.


As I made my escape in Mike’s primitive rolling carriage, I saw a hoard of terrible dragons (of the fly variety) circling above where I had been but moments earlier. I thank my luck that I made it back from such a recklessly embarked on journey and I hope this tale serves as a warning to future unwary travellers.

Ultima Patcher 1.22

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s update, I’ve added in support for Martian Dreams and Savage Empire to the Ultima Patcher. If there are any fan patches for either game, I wasn’t able to find them so this just adds the option to use MT-32 emulation in both games (if you have the ROM’s). This was a rush job to get it done today for the GOG release but I’m relatively sure it works. If anyone actually uses this, I’ll look at adding MT-32 emulation support to the rest of the games.

The new version can be downloaded from here.

Day 60

From what I know so far, there are 3 things of use to do in the underground city. There are weapons for fighting the Myrmidex (staffs and bombs), there is a device that points to the giant moonstone + I need to find the generator and turn it off. I find some staffs and bombs very near the entrance + others on my way through.

The device takes a bit more finding but I stumble into a teleport that takes me there.

There isn’t a whole lot else in the underground city although there is plenty of scope for getting lost. Much later I find the generator and attack the control panel.

This triggers off another cut scene – the automatons and robosaurus all die, Spector reappears out of nowhere, minus the glow and is now sane again + the city starts to fall apart.

I take a bridge to the north which seems to have appeared.

and a lot of wandering later find the way out again. The city closes behind me so I hope I got everything I needed.

I’ve still got a couple of tribes to recruit. First off I have a go at retrieving that shield in the spider cave since I now have the torches I need (made from the impregnated cloth + a stick). The webs burn like gunpowder. I find what I think is the shield but just turns out to be a shield and not the right one.

In the meanwhile I talk to Spector and aside from confirming all the backstory he also confirms the quest to destroy the black stone + Myrmidex queen to remove their threat from the valley.

I walk back to get the correct shield in the spider cave.

and this time its the right one and the Hakuur join up. That leaves the Jukara tribe in this region that I still haven’t visited.

It shouldn’t come as a great shock that they want me to undertake another quest. Their sacred hide is in a cave to the east but they can’t get to it because a volcano flow has blocked the path so I need to fetch it. Rafkin pipes in with the improbable notion that we can use his fire extinguisher to cool the lava….

I’ve been carrying it around all game and sure enough it works to make temporary stepping stones. This has to be one of the most ridiculous ideas I’ve ever seen – not one to try in real life.

The cave with the hide is pretty small – a bear has moved in but there are no other problems getting the hide.

A bit more lava hopping and thats another tribe.

That just leaves the Tichiticatl tribe who’s quest I’ve already done in the stone city but not actually asked to unite. When I get back the old king is back on the throne and I just have to ask.

Its time to bang the drum. All the tribes unite but then disappear on me. My party are all instantly transported to the Myrmidex caves and are seemingly on our own. I’ve got the device to guide me to the stone but these caves are big – I get quite close to the stone but run into a dead end and have to go miles around until I finally find the thing.

First there is the matter of the Myrmidex queen blocking the way – she goes down in about 3 hits.

The stone itself takes a few more but doesn’t strike back so thats no problem and the end cutscene kicks in.

The valley is safe & all the tribes reunited and apparently another quest is on the way.

This was possibly the most fun of the Ultima’s I’ve played so far. It’s pretty lightweight, not just in the RPG elements but also in the plot. This is very much the stuff of 50’s/60’s B-Movies and all fairly silly in truth. Its not going to make you look at major issues in the way the Ultima’s tried to but its runs along at quite a pace for an RPG and never leaves you bored. Besides which I love 50’s/60’s B Movies. I enjoyed playing this more than Ultima 6 most of the time but I’m less satisfied with the game now I’ve finished it.  

I gather Savage Empire didn’t sell too well when it came out which is a real shame as it deserved better. It really isn’t faithful to its Ultima heritage which may have put the fans off a bit and I can’t honestly see how it benefits from being called an Ultima. I think it probably put off the people it was aimed at and Origin would have been better served by just starting up a whole new series.

Next: Wing Commander – Secret Missions 2